Welcome to Libertas Chambers Leading specialists in Business Crime, Professional Discipline & Asset Recovery

Libertas is a dynamic and progressive chambers, offering a range of specialisms across a national presence.

Libertas Chambers

A Forward-thinking set of chambers with a national presence

Libertas Chambers boasts an impressive array of experienced barristers in several practice areas.  We took advantage of recent challenges to rethink the model of a chambers based on criminal and regulatory law and set up on a virtual basis.

This enabled us to create a national service for solicitors and clients by having high quality conference suites in major cities. In London we retain premises in the heart of the City.

Our members provide a high-quality service with access to modern facilities throughout the country.

Read more about us

Areas of Practice & Expertise

Our carefully selected and highly skilled collection of experts provide a national and international service to all Libertas clients. Providing you with a first-class advocacy and advisory service across the following areas (and many more).

If you would like to discuss an alternative area of law please contact our clerking team who will provide you with immediate advice and support.

Business Crime

Our barristers have established national and international reputations for their expertise, experience and confidence in Fraud, Financial Services and Business Crime and Compliance – they are consistently ranked as leaders in the field. We advise and represent individuals and entities in relation to financial, regulatory, and fraud investigations in the UK, and overseas. Our clients include financial institutions and corporations, as well as: politicians entrepreneurs company directors and chief executives chartered accountants lawyers IFAs and medical and other professionals We therefore have accumulated experience dealing with the Financial Conduct Authority, Serious Fraud Office, National Crime Agency, HMRC, National Trading Standards, FACT, as well as other investigating and prosecuting bodies. International Business Crime Many of our cases have an international dimension and we are accordingly experienced dealing with overseas authorities including the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and EU, Indian and Australian authorities. Practitioners specialise in trans-jurisdictional terrorist financing, proscribed wildlife trading, and export control violations. Members of our team have previously worked in the banking and commercial sectors and within their regulatory regimes. Others have had advisory and disciplinary roles regulating the accounting (FRC, ACCA, CIMA) and medical (GMC) sectors.  Some of us prosecute for these agencies as well as defending, and advise on and conduct internal investigations, or act as disclosure counsel. We understand how regulators and prosecution authorities work. Practitioners lecture and advise on corporate responsibility for human rights. We are often involved in an advisory role at the start of regulatory or criminal investigations. Our experience, attention to detail and dedication to our clients assists them in responding appropriately with the object of avoiding prosecution. When proceedings are commenced, we work to ensure that our clients receive the best advice and representation and, most importantly, a fair hearing. Business Crime Conduct Our work covers a wide range of conduct, recently including: Bribery and corruption, including European government officials Cartel Offending Commercial property fraud Corporate compliance with human rights obligations Environmental protection, including carbon credit and land fraud, wildlife trading and international illegal logging EU, National and Devolved Government grant scheme frauds Export Control violations Fraud and cheating in the sports sector (cricket, rugby, horse-racing) Fraudulent trading Insider trading, market manipulation and abuse Insolvency and bankruptcy offending Intellectual property theft Investment (boiler-room) fraud and Ponzi mis-selling Money laundering, restraint, confiscation and asset forfeiture Pension mis-selling and liberation frauds Professional discipline Tax Evasion SPV’s inc. film and insurance schemes MTIC & carousel fraud PAYE, payroll and C.I.S. frauds Duty diversions Terrorist financing Trading Standards prosecutions in clothing, energy switching and ticketing sectors Web-site ghosting and internet advance-fee frauds Whistle-blowing and deferred prosecution agreements We advise and represent well-known corporate clients and individuals in sensitive situations with discretion as well as vigour. Please call our Clerking team on 020 7036 0200 to discuss any particular requirements you may have.

Criminal Defence

Libertas Chambers brings together some of the country’s leading criminal defence specialists. Exceptional juniors and renowned Queens Counsel provide quality representation from the Supreme Court, through the Crown Courts across London and the Circuits and in the Magistrates Court. Members of Libertas Chambers also regularly appear in quasi-criminal jurisdictions where their experience in the criminal courts provides a cutting edge service in regulatory and professional disciplinary proceedings. Chambers accept instructions in both publicly and privately funded work and members provide specialist and strategic advice at all stages of a criminal case, from pre-charge investigation through to trial and appeal. Members of Chambers have appeared in some of the most high-profile criminal cases of recent times, including Operation Elveden (selling stories about Prince William and Prince Harry to The Sun), R v H and C [2004] 2 AC 134 (leading case on disclosure), R v Jogee [2016] UKSC 8 (clarifying an error in the law in accessorial liability) and R v Lewis [2017] EWCA Crim 1734 on the approach to joint principalship. Areas Of Criminal Defence Expertise Our members are regularly instructed in the following key areas of criminal defence practice: Appellate Homicide Corporate manslaughter Terrorism Drug trafficking Serious and organised crime, including corruption and bribery International crime Human trafficking Modern Slavery Fraud Cyber crime Robbery Serious assaults Kidnaping Serious sexual offences Environmental health offences Trading standards prosecutions RSPCA prosecutions Our criminal defence barristers offer expert advice to a wide range of external authorities and regularly provide training and lectures on current topics to other members of the legal profession, experts and those who work within the wider criminal justice system.

Regulatory Law

Our members have substantial experience defending individuals and companies in regulatory law matters before professional tribunals or the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) and above. What distinguishes us from other regulatory barristers specialising in regulatory work is that clients will benefit from our skills and experience as criminal advocates. WHAT IS REGULATORY LAW? Many professions are regulated by professional standards boards and codes of conduct. These codes of conduct can be subject to frequent change and are becoming more demanding and sophisticated and, in some cases, opaque. If a regulatory agency believes that offences have taken place, they have broad powers of investigation. They can conduct inspections, seize documents, compel suspects to answer questions, conduct interviews under caution, serve statutory notices, and take enforcement action, including prosecution. If you need help, our regulatory law barristers can provide legal support and representation. REGULATORY LAW OUR BARRISTERS SPECIALISE IN Our members specialise in many areas of regulatory law, including: Professional Discipline Regulatory Prosecutions We can assist with regulatory bodies, including: – The Financial Services Authority – The Health and Safety Executive – Food Standards Agency – The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – Environment Agency – HM Revenue & Customs WHY CHOOSE OUR REGULATORY BARRISTERS? Contentious regulatory law work often requires a robust defence, strategic advice and preparation, and skilful cross-examination of witnesses. The lack of hard-fought trial experience in some regulatory practitioners means that the witnesses may not be put under the degree of sustained pressure in cross-examination that the client is entitled to and expects. We believe that any individual or corporate entity facing a serious regulatory law accusation is entitled to the same robust defence as a defendant in a criminal case. The consequence of a false regulatory accusation can be just as damaging and life-changing as a false accusation of a criminal offence. Professionals can be vulnerable to malicious complaints. The only way to tackle these successfully is to use the skills honed in the criminal courts to uncover false accusations. We understand that these cases often cross over between criminal, civil, regulatory and disciplinary proceedings. We are also very aware of both the commercial and emotional impact these cases can have on clients and have a lot of experience supporting our clients through the challenges. We are also well-versed in working with insurers, unions and defence organisations. The regulatory law team includes trained mediators and members with experience working within the City and in-house with regulators. Contact Our Regulatory Law Barristers If you would like to speak with a member of our team, there are plenty of ways to contact Libertas Chambers. Our clerks will be only too happy to recommend the most appropriate barrister or combination of barristers for each individual case.

Civil Litigation

There can often be a very thin line between conduct which is criminal in nature or which amounts to commercial fraud only. The correct advice and selecting the right remedy can make all the difference. Some cases are best left to be prosecuted in criminal courts, where the offender faces the prospect of penal consequences. In other cases, seeking remedies in a commercial or a civil court may be more expedient for you to recoup your losses. And then, there are cases where you may want to explore both possibilities simultaneously. Types of Civil Litigation Civil litigation can encompass a broad range of disputes that will directly enact a number of legal matters. A civil litigator will therefore tend to specialise in a specific practice area. Some of the most common types of civil litigation include: disputes and laws that encompass landlords and tenants environmental law products liability intellectual-property disputes construction medical malpractice employment and labour issues anti-trust laws real estate worker’s compensation, and education law Our Civil Litigation Barristers At Libertas, we pride ourselves on having barristers who have vast experience in multiple domains. We can advise you on selecting the correct remedy for your situation. We assist you with advice that lets you form an informed view. Our members routinely provide pre-litigation advice that helps you form a comprehensive legal overview of your situation and the possibilities. Contact Libertas Chambers today to discuss representation for any civil litigation matter.

Public Law & Human Rights

Libertas Chambers enjoys a leading reputation at the public law and human rights bar. Our barristers frequently appear in the Administrative Court and Upper Tribunal in judicial review hearings and administrative appeals. We help our clients pursue public law challenges against all public authorities, including government departments, courts and tribunals, coroners, the police, housing authorities, schools and prisons. Judicial Review Judicial Review proceedings enable challenges to decisions made by Courts and Tribunals, by regulators and by bodies whose public functions impact individuals and companies. This jurisdiction is an essential protection of the individual’s rights against administrative irrationality or excess. We have specialist experience seeking Judicial Review in cases flowing from our other practice areas, challenging decisions in criminal and quasi-criminal investigations. Members have acted for claimants seeking to challenge decisions made by the police, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the Information Commissioner, the Asset Recovery Agency, the Legal Services Commission, the Magistracy, Judges and various Tribunals. These cases have included: challenges to the lawfulness of pre-charge search warrants decisions to prosecute children actions by solicitors resisting Special Procedure search warrants challenges to the legality of the application of the sending procedure by Magistrates Courts preserving the anonymity of young offenders in extreme cases the applicability of the reasonable time requirements in Article 6 to enforcement of Confiscation Proceedings decisions on appellate referral by the CCRC treatment of prisoners and the review of Parole Board decisions. Criminal Trials Within the criminal trial process, our members have expertise at first instance on: domestic appeal and applications in the European Court of Human Rights and the OHCHR challenging a range of human rights violations, as well as the compatibility of primary and secondary legislation with the European Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms (ECHR) such as the hearsay provisions in CJA 2003, the reverse burden in s.90 Financial Services Act 2012 the Attorney-General’s exercise of the right of nolle prosequi We act nationally and internationally for people whose human rights are in issue in other forums, including actions against the police, extradition, international law, prisoners’ rights, and at Coronial Inquests. Why Choose Our Human Rights Barristers? Libertas Chambers’ members have advised and acted on behalf of individuals, governmental organisations and major NGOs in providing international human rights expertise. Our members provide advice and representation in cases concerning Prison Law, including issues relating to prisoners’ welfare, Parole Board hearings, and the release and recall of prisoners. Coronial Inquests engage the rights of many groups; members have experience representing interested parties, insurers and the families of the deceased. We offer particular expertise where there is a potential engagement of criminal or regulatory proceedings, acting for insurers and their policyholders.

Private Prosecutions

The prosecution of alleged criminals for wrongdoing is generally the domain of the Crown and its specialist agencies. But increasing budgetary constraints on investigating and prosecution agencies mean that many miscreants can avoid being held to account in the Criminal Courts for their actions. Why Private Prosecutions? When State prosecutors decide they cannot or will not prosecute, the law allows private individuals to prosecute allegations of wrongdoing. Initiating a private prosecution puts you in court as the prosecutor, adopting the mantle of the prosecution agency. Who Can Bring A Private Prosecution? A private prosecution can be brought by any individual or company – it is not solely an option for the police, CPS or government agency. In the past, private prosecutions were more common among charitable or public interest bodies. But more recently, section 6(1) has been increasingly used by individuals and commercial entities as an alternative to or alongside civil litigation. Which offences can be privately prosecuted? Subject to certain exceptions, private prosecutions can be brought for a wide range of offences where the CPS have not initiated criminal proceedings, including: Fraud Property disputes Assault Sexual offences Harassment Perverting the course of justice Blackmail Manslaughter/murder Private Prosecution Barristers Private prosecutions are a specialist area of the law. The right to prosecute, and seek punishment of offenders, brings with it the responsibility of ensuring a fair trial and the obligation to conform to all the rules applicable to any prosecuting agency. Those rules are often complex and diffuse. At Libertas Chambers, our barristers are experienced in liaising with potential prosecuting authorities and advising how to assemble the best case for the prosecution, taking the case to court and seeking justice, even where the Crown Prosecution Service or other prosecution agencies cannot or will not act. Importantly, this includes continuing advice on the recovery of compensation and some or all of litigation costs from defendants or Central Funds. We start by helping you assess your evidence, advising you on the right forum in which to litigate and on the merits of your case, then working with the best private prosecution solicitors to put together and finally present your case at trial, ensuring continuity of representation and consistency of approach. Members of chambers can offer advice about the particular issues that arise in private prosecutions, including: the prospects of success, applying for and resisting the issue of a summons, applications to the Director of Public Prosecutions to take over and stop a prosecution, presenting and resisting abuse of process arguments recovery of costs. If you would like to find out more information about private prosecutions, please contact our clerks to arrange an initial consultation to discuss the merits of your case.

International Law

Libertas Chambers can field a range of quality advocates who are able to undertake advisory, consultancy and adversarial work in International Criminal Law including: Genocide Torture Crimes against Humanity War Crimes (including several members who are experienced in military tribunals) Why Choose Our International Law Barristers? Members of Libertas Chambers have significant experience in international criminal law at International Criminal Courts and Tribunals, including appeals in cases concerning genocide, crimes against humanity and joint criminal enterprise in an international context. Members experience extends to issues of universal and extra territorial jurisdiction, transnational human trafficking, statelessness and citizenship stripping. Members of Libertas Chambers are available to advise on issues of complementarity arising in International Criminal Law investigations and the application of domestic criminal law in the context of war crimes, torture and other international crimes, to include where there are overlaps with International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights, Terrorism as an international crime, Extradition and Asset freezing regimes. International Criminal Law Expertise We are particularly proud to have a number of members with expertise in international terrorism law who have acted in the UK and overseas in high profile cases at trial and on appeal. Our members are also experts in extradition law, particularly in the context of multinational financial crime. Members of Libertas Chambers also have recent experience across the Commonwealth and in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and have experience in death penalty cases overseas We have members on the lists and the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in the Hague and who have appeared in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)> Members provide teaching and training in a wealth of international criminal law spheres.

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Latest News
Darren Snow Joins Sports Resolution’s Safeguarding Programme Chambers is delighted to announce that Darren Snow has been invited to join Sports Resolutions’ Safeguarding Case Management Programme (SCMP). Sports Resolutions are the leading independent dispute resolution service for sport. Sports Resolutions provides case management assistance to National Governing Bodies for various Sports in relation to safeguarding matters, providing advice and assistance with investigations and hearings. Darren will be working with Sports Resolutions to provide tribunal representation, expert opinion and with assistance with arbitration and mediation across the full range of sport safeguarding work. For further information on this new initiative: National Safeguarding Panel | Sport Resolutions
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Simon Csoka QC Secures Acquittal Of Solicitor In SFO Prosecution Simon Csoka QC and Michael Lavery (Exchange Chambers) secure acquittals on all counts for their client at Southwark Crown Court. He was the only defendant acquitted. The trial, prosecuted by the SFO with two QCs, a junior and over 30 disclosure juniors, ran for five months at Southwark. The case concerned a Cayman Islands based investment fund which provided litigation funding for no-win no-fee cases in the UK. The fund collapsed in 2012 with losses of over £100 million to pension investors internationally. There was an extensive offshore group of companies in Cayman, Switzerland, Panama, the Marshall Islands and the Isle of Man. Richard Emmett was the senior partner of a substantial firm of solicitors which received the largest share of the funding. He was charged with fraudulent trading and money laundering. Mr Csoka QC was instructed by Mr Paul Schofield of Farleys solicitors. Simon and Michael would like to thank him and his team in the Financial Crime department for their thorough and proactive preparation of Mr Emmett’s defence. Links: The Times Financial Times Daily Mail
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Adam Kane QC Secures Acquittal on Murder Charges Adam Kane QC secured the acquittal on all counts of the oldest of 3 brothers charged with murder, attempted murder and wounding offences in Bradford. After a 6-week trial the jury acquitted Aizaz Khan over his involvement in a revenge machete attack following an earlier brawl in the City centre. In evidence, Mr Khan denied deliberately rounding up his siblings and others and driving them, armed, to and from the attacks. Mr Kane QC was instructed by Kingsman Solicitors, and thanks the instructing partner Jabran Hussain and his junior Imran Khan for supporting his observance of the Bar’s days of action throughout the trial.
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Latest Insights
Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Bill or ‘Joint Enterprise’ Bill On 22 September the Times Law section published an article by our Dr Felicity Gerry KC on the Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Bill or ‘Joint Enterprise’ Bill under the title “A glimmer of hope for hundreds wrongfully convicted of crimes”. You can read the article (paywall) here: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/ – some of it is reproduced below. A Private Members’ Bill currently before Parliament identifies the miscarriage of justice in ‘joint enterprise’ cases and passed its first reading in the House of Commons on 6 September 2022. The Criminal Appeal (Amendment) Bill or ‘Joint Enterprise’ Bill, seeks to amend the test which prevents those affected by an error of law from appealing their conviction unless they can prove they ‘would not have been convicted’ (the test articulated in R v Johnson and others [2016] EWCA Crim 1613). As is well known, hundreds, if not thousands, of people, often young, black and/ or with a disability were convicted of crimes they did not commit and have thus far been refused leave to appeal. In murder trials they were alleged to be accessories merely because they ‘foresaw’ a friend might commit a crime. In R v Jogee [2016] UKSC 8 (Jogee), now 6 years ago, the UK Supreme Court decided there had been an error of law which had been wrongly adopted for 30 years and only those who intended to assist or encourage a crime should be convicted as accessories. Subsequently, the Court of Appeal set the bar for appeal so high that only one case has passed the threshold. That person went on to be one of the London Bridge heroes who tackled the terrorist attacker. Others who have been prevented from appealing are Alex Henry who lives with autism and did not touch the victim. Asher Johnson, a young black youth who withdrew before a knife was produced and T’Shai Ennis, a black youth with a cognitive disability whose application for leave to appeal was refused last month, who also did not touch the victim. Dr Gerry KC currently represents all three of these young men. Henry and Johnson’s cases are current at the Criminal Cases Review Commission after filing petitions for mercy. Following the refusal of leave in Ennis’ case [2022] EWCA Crim 1088, the UK Supreme Court is ‘functus’ so it cannot consider the race and disability issues raised both in relation to evidence of bad character and knowledge of the essential facts for the purposes of complicity. The Ennis decision at paragraphs 38 and 39 reads as follows: Dr Gerry QC contended that the substantial injustice hurdle sets far too high a threshold, which has proved impossible to surmount in practice. It amounts to a lack of access to justice and involves the surreptitious return of the proviso previously set out in section 2(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 which was repealed on 1 January 1996. Further, it is discriminatory. Dr Hulley and Dr Young’s work illustrates the over-representation of black and ethnic minority men in cohorts of people convicted under joint enterprise principles. She argued that the test also raises particular issues relating to the convictions of those with disabilities which may have complicated the approach to foresight. However, the substantial injustice test is well established. It flows directly from the Supreme Court’s observations as to the rationale for it in Jogee. The approach to cases of this nature was clearly set out by this Court in Johnson. We do not consider that there is any basis for us to depart from it. It follows that to the extent that the applicant relies on the change of law since Jogee, in order to justify an exceptional grant of leave to appeal his conviction, he must show substantial injustice. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal has cemented its view that the substantial injustice test will apply in a very broad range of factual circumstances. This will not be a case-by-case approach. Priority is given to finality before the court and the opinion of the court on guilt. It seems remarkable that, whilst the UK Supreme Court was brave enough to admit an error, there is no movement to correct the consequences. At present the solution seems to be a matter for the Executive. There is a current review by the Law Commission into the functioning of the Court of Appeal, so the Bill is timely. It can only be hoped that Parliament will have the political will to support those families affected who have seen their children and other loved ones incarcerated because of a miscarriage of law. It is notable that the famous appeal by Derek Bentley was successful decades after he was hanged when it was accepted that his jury were wrongly directed. There is therefore a conflict between court of appeal authorities – now wrongful judicial directions are not sufficient to overturn a conviction. In Ennis, submissions on incorrect directions were specifically rejected.  Justice is always slow but, as these prisoners grapple with a sentence that research by Cambridge University has shown lacks legitimacy, the pressure is on to bring some trust back to the appellate system. The story does not end there: Since 2016, cases have been before the courts using the ‘intention’ test, but the law has developed to allow people to be convicted on little or no contribution to the crime. In one recent trial which Dr Gerry KC defended, where CCTV literally showed the defendant did not join in, the fact that he got out of a car was said to be enough to convict him of murder. Fortunately, the jury saw sense and he was acquitted. It is at least arguable that the law on complicity has lost sight of the element of causation. It is not entirely clear why there is any appetite to convict people who make no contribution to a crime but in murder this puts people’s children and family members at risk of a mandatory life sentence with a minimum term of 25 to 35 years for a killing they did not do. It is a crisis in criminal justice that needs to be rectified and the Bill is a first step in that direction.  
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The Use of Rap Lyrics in Criminal Trials As the New York State Senate debates Senate Bill S7527, to limit the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s creative or artistic expression against such defendant in a criminal proceeding, this article sets out some of the issues we discussed in our Libertas Lecture / Webinar. We raise concerns about the way rap lyrics are used in criminal trials in a way that does not appear to arise in relation to other genres. The issues outlined below are explored in more detail in A Owusu-Bempah, ‘The Irrelevance of Rap’ [2022] Criminal Law Review 130. For decades, rap has been one of the most popular and profitable genres of music worldwide. While some subgenres of rap, such as ‘drill’, are characterised by first-person accounts of criminality, this should not be taken at face value. Rap relies heavily on hyperbole, figurative language and dark humour. It can operate as a form of social commentary, but much of the content is fictional and driven by commercial interests, as violence sells. For many, rapping is seen as a route to financial security, but it can also be cathartic, and generate a sense of belonging, particularly beneficial for those who come from marginalised communities. As well as being a vibrant part of youth culture, rap music has become a target for police and prosecutors, with lyrics and music videos seemingly offering a means of linking suspects and defendants to crime. However, when rap is presented as evidence in court, the artistic conventions and social influences of the genre are often overlooked, and the use of (often irrelevant and unreliable) rap as evidence at criminal trials risks unduly prejudicing jurors against defendants. This is evident from the case law. An analysis of over 30 reported judgments in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales (Criminal Division) in which rap lyrics or rap videos were used as evidence at a criminal trial or treated as an aggravating factor at sentencing shows that rap music is used almost exclusively as evidence against young Black men and boys (usually teenagers) who are accused of serious offences (namely weapons offences and violent offences, including homicide) in London and other urban areas. Often these are cases of ‘joint enterprise’ or alleged secondary liability, where rap is used to link defendants to each other and the crime, and often, or at the same time, as evidence of gang involvement, to place an offence in a gang context and to highlight association through music as a question of character, not culture. It is an extra burden for defence counsel to deal with such tropes, especially in highly charged murder or conspiracy to murder trials where some accused persons are associating on the periphery of a group through music. This profile of cases, properly analysed, is concerning: Prosecutors may benefit from themes and aesthetics within rap music, by erroneously taking rap literally and using it to help build a case in which Black boys and men represent, or fit into, stereotypes of what a criminal looks or behaves like, including by branding them as ‘gang members’.  The term ‘gang’ is vague and has been disproportionately applied to Black young people, including many who are not involved in crime, and in a way that does not correlate to the commission of serious youth violence.[1] This disproportionate application equips the term ‘gang’ with the ability to evoke images of Black criminality. Rap music can be used to amplify those images and further link Black men and boys to crime. It is also concerning that, in their capacity as ‘gang experts’, police officers are often relied on to interpret and contextualise rap lyrics and videos. Being an expert on gangs does not, without more, make one an expert on rap. Unless the officer has studied the history, culture and conventions of the genre, has kept up to date with ever-changing slang, and/or is actively involved or immersed in rap culture, it would be more appropriate for the court to hear from musicians, industry insiders and social scientists, particularly scholars of hip-hop, rap and popular culture. We must also question the extent to which police can act impartially in this role.  The organisation JUSTICE, has gone as far as to say that, in the context of explaining drill music, ‘the use of police officers as experts amounts to no more than the prosecution calling itself to give evidence.’[2] In one homicide trial, in which Dr Felicity Gerry QC defended, one lyric relied on by the prosecution to impute bad character appeared in a search on Lyrics.com in 74,283 lyrics by 46 artists, and in 48 albums. Spelt another way, it appeared in 1,836 lyrics by 100 artists, and in 3 albums. These searches were undertaken by the defence, not the police officer who gave evidence. In that case, some music evidence was excluded by the trial judge but evidence of ‘nicknames’, hand signals and postcodes were admitted – suggesting at least the ‘ghettoization’ of young people in certain locations, even though Felicity’s client lived elsewhere. Her client and another were acquitted. A co-defendant, an emerging rap artist, was convicted. Perhaps of most significance to criminal lawyers is the seemingly relaxed approach that the courts have taken to assessing the relevance and prejudicial effect of rap music as evidence of a crime. While lyrics that are directly connected to the crime charged could be relevant, in that they make it more likely that the author of the lyrics has some knowledge of (or connection to) the offence, rap was usually not presented in this way. Most often, generic and common-place lyrics about weapons and violence were used to help prove: state of mind (e.g. R v Soloman [2019] EWCA Crim 1356); criminal association and presence at the scene of a crime (e.g. R v Lewis [2014] EWCA Crim 48); propensity for violence or familiarity with firearms (e.g. R v O [2010] EWCA Crim 2985); and motive (e.g. R v Sode [2017] EWCA Crim 705). In Sode, a two-year-old music video in which the appellant was said to make gestures and remarks consistent with support for a gang (created when he was 14-years-old), was used as evidence of gang membership, which then went to the motive for an apparent gang rival attack. Likewise, it has been reported that at a first instance ‘joint enterprise’ trial, a rap video made as part of a community project was used as evidence against the young people who made it, which seems a remarkable approach by the prosecution. Importantly, the same approach is not taken when groups of rugby fans emulate Sir Tom Jones singing about killing Delilah. The research by Dr Owusu-Bempah thus far shows that gang membership cannot be as easily inferred from rap music as the case law suggests. Assuming lyrics or videos are interpreted correctly, references to gangs is common in some rap subgenres, and non-gang affiliated young people participate in gang-themed music for a variety of reasons, including for fun, to appear more authentic, boost popularity, or as a ‘nod to’ their local audience. Also, Amnesty International found that identifying with a gang is ‘porous, fluid and often “for show”’,[3] making it difficult to draw a reliable inference of current affiliation from past indicators of support for a gang.  That the age of the video in Sode was said not to ‘reduce its impact or diminish its relevance’ also demonstrates a lack of scrutiny of factors surrounding the creation of rap which affect relevance and probative value. As for prejudicial effect, several empirical studies in the U.S. have found bias against rap music, rooted in racial stereotypes. For example, a 2018 study by Dunbar and Kubrin gave participants identical lyrics, with some being told it was rock, some country and some rap. The participants were ‘more likely to assume that a rapper is in a gang, has a criminal record, and is involved in criminal activity than are artists from other music genres, and this is based merely on the genre of the lyrics.’[4] These studies reveal the risk of rap music reinforcing biases, as well as the risk of rap being taken too literally. Yet, the racialised nature of rap evidence was not mentioned or addressed in any of the cases analysed, and the judgments tend to only go as far as acknowledging the potential for prejudicial effect, taking the view that admission was not ‘unduly prejudicial’, with little explanation as to why (e.g. R v Awoyemi [2016] EWCA Crim 668). Moreover, while directions to the jury are important (R v Rashid [2019] EWCA Crim 2018), they need not include information that will assist jurors to make sense of rap, such as the broader cultural context, artistic conventions, or the social influences within the rap music genre. This lack of context increases the risk of both improper reasoning and moral prejudice. In other words, discriminatory inferences from musical interests do not help juries to reach safe verdicts. Fortunately, the increased use of rap as evidence has been accompanied by increasing pushback from academics, lawyers and NGOs, arguing for a far more rigorous approach to the admissibility and use of rap evidence. While the CPS is drafting new guidance on the use of drill music as evidence,[5] it is instructive to look to the proposed Bill in New York.[6] Under the proposal, evidence of a defendant’s creative or artistic expression would be inadmissible unless it is proven with clear and convincing evidence that it: is literal rather than figurative or fictional; has a strong factual nexus indicating that it refers to the specific facts of the crime alleged; is relevant to a fact in issue; and has distinct probative value not provided for by other admissible evidence. Importantly, any criteria for admission must not become a tick-box exercise to justify the admission of rap as evidence. Rather, we should strive to understand how approaches to ‘character’ ignore culture and to keep irrelevant, unreliable and/or highly prejudicial evidence out of the courtroom by not using rap lyrics in criminal trials.   [1] Amnesty International, Trapped in the Matrix (London: Amnesty International, 2018); See also P. Williams and B. Clarke, Dangerous Associations: Joint Enterprise, Gangs and Racism (London: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, 2016). [2] JUSTICE, ‘Tackling Racial Injustice: Children and the Youth Justice System’ (London: JUSTICE, 2021), para. 2.51. [3] Amnesty International, Trapped in the Matrix (2018) p.9. [4] A. Dunbar and C.E. Kubrin, ‘Imagining Violent Criminals: An Experimental Investigation of Music Stereotypes and Character Judgments’ (2018) 14(4) Journal of Experimental Criminology 507, 521. [5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-60070345 [6] https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/s7527   Download Article now To stay up to date with insight articles, webinars and chamber news why not subscribe to Libertas Lens (our periodic newsletter) – Click here to register
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Chambers Article: Miscarriage of Justice – The importance of the Crime Scene in Murders Siobhan Grey QC examines the implications of the recent case of R v Patryk Pachecka and the important role played by the media in overturning a conviction for murder and the significance of scientific and pathological evidence in changing the forensic narrative and leading to the unanimous acquittal of the Defendant. Siobhan Grey QC represented Patryk Pachecka and was instructed by Jason Lartey of Lartey and Co. Click below to read in full. Download Article now To stay up to date with insight articles, webinars and chamber news why not subscribe to Libertas Lens (our periodic newsletter) – Click here to register
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Libertas to Provide Pro Bono Criminal Law Support We are pleased to announce our association with the Chelmsford Law Clinic, as their pro bono legal advisors on criminal defence referrals. For further information on the Clinic see Chelmsford Law Clinic – Free legal advice The Centre offers a 30-minute free consultation to the public on a wide range of public, family and civil law alongside criminal defence advice. Our service will be overseen by Darren Snow. Growing up in the town Darren has a strong commitment to the area and saw this as a fantastic opportunity to use Libertas’s expertise as a leading criminal chambers to assist those otherwise struggling to access quality legal advice. We are proud to be involved and look forward to providing assistance. Libertas is involved in a wide range of pro bono work domestically and on an international level. For further information please see our Pro Bono page or speak to our senior clerk Marc King. Image curtesy of Wikipedia.
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Dr Felicity Gerry QC and Fahrid Chishty Advise Diplomatic Mission on the Vienna Convention 1963 Dr Felicity Gerry QC and Fahrid Chishty were instructed by a diplomatic mission in London to advise on the parameters of disclosure under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963. The matter concerned the scope of Articles 5 and 37 of the Convention in relation to the vulnerable nationals of a Sending State based in the jurisdiction of a Receiving State. Dr Gerry and Fahrid delivered detailed written advice which assessed the rights and responsibilities of diplomats and consular officials in relation to disclosure under domestic, diplomatic and international law. They were praised for their diligent, discrete and expedient work.
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Terrorism, County Lines Cases and Modern Slavery – Webinar TERRORISM, COUNTY LINES CASES AND MODERN SLAVERY DEFENCES This webinar is presented by our members Dr Felicity Gerry KC, Gerard Hillman and Chaynee Hodgetts and will focus on the use of the National referral mechanism for victims of human trafficking at risk of prosecution for terrorism offences or where they are alleged to have participated in serious organised crime as part of an alleged ‘County Lines’ network. It will consider the limitations of the ‘Modern Slavery Defence’ in section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 following recent cases of R v BWM,  R v AAD and others and Brecani. Presented by our Dr Felicity Gerry KC, Gerard Hillman and Chaynee Hodgetts: Felicity’s PhD was on criminal justice as a strategic game for trafficked women. She is also a contributor to Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Law and Practice (Bloomsbury).  She appeared for a successful applicant in R v AAD and others. Gerard represented the young female accused of terrorism where the prosecution was recently discontinued after a referral to the NRM. Chaynee, one of our newest members, has over 10 years’ experience as an academic and is working with Dr Gerry on research to improve modern slavery frameworks. Register today – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/county-lines-and-modern-slavery-registration-383321754687 To ensure you don’t miss out on future events please register for our newsletter by clicking here.
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